Friday, October 03, 2008

Murayama Statement Erratum?

The most recent expression by a new Japanese Prime Minister of accession to the 1995 Murayama Statement on Japan’s wartime responsibilities (MOFA English translation here) urges me to find the time to collect my thoughts sufficiently to inflict you with yet another post regarding history issues—specifically, on the respective roles of government, civil society and the individual. In the meantime, let me do a riff on the words “errors” and “mistake” and its adjectival variant “mistaken” in the translation.

The English translation renders “過去のあやまち=ayamachi” as “the errors in our history”, “国策を誤り=ayamari” as “following a mistaken national policy”, and “未来に誤ちayamachi無からしめんとするが故に” as “In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future”.

The second example, where the translator replaces the verb “誤り” with adjective “mistaken” is the easy part, so let’s take care of it first. The root form of the verb “誤り” is “誤る”, which is translated in the online Kenkyusha dictionary as:
mistake; make a mistake; 《fml》 commit [make] an error; 《fml》 err; 〈誤解する〉 misunderstand; 〈しくじる〉 fail; 〈取り違える〉 mistake [take] 《A》 for 《B》.
Here, there is no sense of inherent moral or ethical failure; the examples merely point out a variance with the correct action or understanding of things. Kenkyusha is even more concise with the noun form of “誤る ayamaru” —again, confusingly for the novitiate “誤り”:
a mistake; a slip; a blunder; 《fml》 an error ⇒→まちがい
This is not the case for the first, hiragana, ayamachi(=あやまち). Kenkyusha gives it following definitions:
〈過失〉 a fault; a blunder; 〈誤り〉 a mistake; 《fml》 an error; 〈罪過〉 an offense; 〈事故〉 an accident; a mishap.
Note the word “offense”. Inherent, if implicit, is something that goes beyond mere correction, a legal, moral or ethical sanction, external and/or self-inflicted—retribution and/or atonement. If fact, this sense is so powerful that it is rarely used in a non-judgmental sense. Instead, “誤り ayamari”, that is, the noun form of the verb “誤る ayamaru” is almost always used to convey the generic sense of “error” or “mistake”.

The second, mixed-orthography, ayamachi(=誤ち) poses a problem. It is nowhere to be found in the Kenkyusha or Sanseido dictionaries, online versions of two of the most widely used sets of hardcopy dictionaries in Japan. Instead, the only mixed-orthography version of ayamachi is “過ち”, and is coupled to “あやまり”, the hiragama version. In other words, two respected authorities (surely seconded by other publishers) recognize “過ち” and “過ち” alone as an acceptable mixed-orthography rendering of “あやまち”, or “ayamachi”.

The MOFA translators must have been aware of this difference, and reflected it by transposing the two words to “errors” and “mistake”, respectively. But why in the first place did the original drafters of the Murayama Statement render ayamachi, one of the most crucial concepts in the text, in the first instance in hiragana and switch to what is at best an unorthodox rendering in the second? My mind is not settled on this point, so I’ll leave it at that, for any of you that are interested to consider. I mention in passing that my thoughts were set off by what I perceived to be a gap between the emotive “ayamachi” on one hand and the less judgmental “error” and “mistakes” on the other.

* There is, in fact, a verb version of “ayamachi=あやまち, 過ち”, namely “ayamatsu=過つ”. It is no longer used except perhaps for some archaic and formal effect. Interestingly, it does not convey any inherent sense of moral or ethical failure. Thus, it has more or less the same meaning as “ayamaru” (but without the latter’s alternate meaning to apologize, which is expressed with a different Chinese character).


William Bogaty said...

Interesting questions. (By the way, note that there is one further use of the "mistake" word in the Maruyama statement: "道を誤らない事".) Seems like the differences between 誤りand 過ちmay be almost too small to worry about (really, a little more effort and body language could have been put into conveying moral lapse), although the Analects (in Japanese) always seem to use the latter rather than the former. But putting "ayamachi" into all hiragana must mean something -- I assume it was for emphasis and the beginning of some education about the war. Question is: who was the audience for all of this subtle signaling? Was it really the Japanese public? Did they get it?

The distinctions in the English version between "error" and "mistake" don't really mean much. Although I don't know Chinese, it seems the Chinese version consistently uses what looks like the Japanese 錯誤 without worrying about the Japanese version word variations. So one needs to conclude that the signalling, if that what it was, was domestic.

On the other hand, I wonder if we're looking for meaning in all the wrong places, and what there is was random jotting by some harried bureaucrat with a deadline.

Jun Okumura said...

Interesting points. I'll do my best to get back to them later.